“Be prepared! A stitch in time saves nine. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Okay, we’ve all heard sayings like these, but do they have any relevance to Gold Butte National Monument (GBNM)? I would argue that they do. Even more so, than places like Zion National Park or Death Valley National Park. The main reason is that GBNM is undeveloped and visitation to remote areas is very low. A minor incident can easily escalate into a full blown emergency. A little forethought and precaution can make big differences between an inconvenience or a tragedy. In this article, I will focus on actions you can perform prior to your adventure.
As with any wilderness adventure preparation, you must accept that a certain level of risk will always exist and that it is impossible to anticipate every problem or scenario. With that in mind, I begin by asking myself, “What are the most likely situations we could encounter, and what can we do to mitigate them?” In my opinion for GBNM, they falls resulting in serious injury, getting lost (both vehicular and on foot), vehicles getting immobilized (getting stuck and/or tire damage), and vehicles breaking down. For ease of discussion, I will classify the situations into two categories: The human factor and mechanical failure/limitation.
The human factor are situations that arise due to errors and failures in planning, lack of knowledge and/or experience, and also bad judgement. KNOW BEFORE YOU GO, you must do your homework and coordination. Also, once in the wilderness, continuously reassess conditions, don’t push your luck. “Discretion is the better part of valor.” In no particular order:
- Weather- temperatures, precipitation, sunset, wind, thunderstorm/flash flood potential, visibility
- Route- primary, alternates, type, conditions, maps (do not rely 100% on GPS), ice, mud, high clearance, deep sand, incline, spots for parking turning around, accessible with trailer
- Check the environment (especially if hiking)- steepness, elevation change, distance, shade, drop offs, cell phone service (expect none), adequate food/water, threats from plants/animals
- Footwear and clothing- sturdy fitting broken-in boots, appropriate clothing, broken-in back pack, sun/winter hat
- Personal skills/confidence- KNOWING AND ACCEPTING LIMITATIONS, driving 4×4, first aid, map/compass, recovering a stuck vehicle safely, hiking with a heavy back pack, climbing
- Inform someone of your trip details so they can provide the police with information if you are overdue
- Go with other people in multiple vehicles- probably the safest action you could take but only if the other people are also fully prepared (if not, they could be a liability and put you in a difficult situation), share and compare all information and agree on the details of the adventure and be open to alter as needed, avoid pressuring others beyond their level of comfort or ability
- Pack the 10 essentials- there are hundreds of different lists, take what you feel are must haves
Mechanical failure/limitations deals with problems that arise due to your vehicle having a breakdown or exceeding the operational design. For example, you could experience a broken fan belt. It isn’t something that occurs often and could happen without any warning. So carrying an extra fan belt would seem logical. But, now ask yourself, do you have the skills and tools to replace the belt in the wilderness? How about the head gasket? Dead battery? A couple extra universal joints? Again, it is impossible to predict every mechanical failure nor is it realistic to carry every spare part. But you still can do the following. Again in no particular order:
- Scheduled maintenance- Keep up to date, professional inspection prior to an extended trip
- Proper tires- get off road tires (highway tires will not hold up to sharp rocks and traction requirements), get a full size spare tire, get the same vehicle’s wheels/tires on trailers (in an emergency you can use its tires on your vehicle), adjust pressure as needed and rotate appropriately
- Fuel- enough gas for the trip, remember to account for using the A/C in hot weather, towing trailer, high altitude
- Trailers- insure you are not exceeding the safe towing limitations of the vehicle, add a safety margin for towing uphill under 4×4, equipment and propane tank properly secured
- Loading- equipment and gear is secured, load is balanced, no loose items bouncing around
- Assemble a plastic storage tote with basic tools, shovel, recovery strap, towing pintle/shackles (do not use trailer hitch ball or straps with hooks for pulling someone who is stuck), a 10×10 inch piece of plywood for setting a jack, tire gauge, portable air compressor, a quart of motor oil, jumper cables, work gloves, first aid kit, extra cargo tie down straps, duct tape
- Know your vehicles driving limitations and characteristics- obstacle clearance height, lowest point of the undercarriage, maximum angle and depth of entering and leaving a depression (like a deep wash), turning radius, visibility cresting a hill, roll over angle, procedure for engaging 4×4-low and other drive settings
No doubt many of you have dozens of additional items to add to the lists of preventive measures. Others may feel some of my comments are too extreme and unnecessary. Only you can be the judge of what is right for you. But, I don’t think anyone will disagree when I say you play a critical role and responsibility to insure your own safety. Be careful, be safe, and have fun.